The word "collaboration" can conjure contrasting associations, depending on who you are and on your life experiences. Some of us may think of collaboration as a positive thing — a process in which we work with others (hopefully harmoniously) and, by virtue of teamwork, create results that are better than we could have achieved on our own. Others may bristle at the word, because it brings up memories of forced committees and coalitions, often ending with results that are inferior to those we might have achieved on our own.
While I've experienced both, my feeling is that the more refined the processes and technologies involved, the better the chance that the outcomes will be positive. The bad news is that the above are often lacking.
Through some enlightening market research, I conducted last year, I learned that most people view "meetings" and "collaboration" as interchangeable. And while I can see why this is a common definition, I think there's a little more to it than that.
If you think about the workflow of collaboration, you start to see that it's a continual process that involves individual/solitary work, sharing work products, discussing opinions and next steps, assigning new action items, checking status, back to individual work, and sent. There are transitions involved. There may be one-on-one meetings, team meetings, reviews by management, reviews by clients, and more. Some of these meetings might be in person; others from remote locations. There can be loops and revisions. There is, inevitably, file sharing. There may be one end goal or it may be an ongoing process that has no finish line (software development with periodic releases comes to mind). Of course, your industry, your company culture, and your role will influence the process.
What's your company's "collaboration culture?"
There were some noteworthy interviews during the course of the market-research project I referred to earlier. One, with a corporate training manager at a large technology firm, was especially revealing. Our interviewee explained that her company had a very collaborative culture. At least, that's what management believed. In actuality, without any guidance on the process, collaboration at that company had become a mere checkbox. In other words, to get it out of the way, most employees interpreted "collaboration" to mean "telling other people what you are doing." While she found this to be a step in the right direction (and, undoubtedly, better than a complete lack of communication), she didn't believe that this was a true collaboration.
When we pressed her for more details, she had a great explanation. "Collaboration should be a process wherein you appoint a steering committee that involves one representative from every department with a stake in the decisions or outcomes of a project. The committee convenes and comes up with a proposed course of action, after which the representatives go back to their respective groups to confer, gather objections, opinions, and so on. After that, the representatives reconvene to share issues and ideas, identify duplicate projects, and so on. They repeat this process until they have determined that there are no further roadblocks."
Makes sense to me. Too bad it rarely happens this way at most companies!
Common workflow sticking points
Unfortunately, agreeing on a collaboration workflow is easier than the reality of making it happen. Even if you are fortunate enough to work for a company that understands why collaboration is important (and may even prescribe sensible collaborative processes), there are many barriers to overcome — often due to the tools used.
For example, it's ideal to have the entire team agree on the agenda for your meetings ahead of time (so as not to waste precious meeting minutes discussing the scope and expectations). In most offices, the only way to do this efficiently is via email. Except...is it efficient? Say you have seven meeting participants. One individual must send out a sample agenda or request contributions for the agenda via email. Either the participants will send individual emails back to the organizer, or everyone will copy the entire group with their suggestions. In the first scenario, the meeting coordinator will have to sort through seven emails and transfer everything onto one agenda. The second scenario encompasses the first, with the added inconvenience of creating six additional emails for every participant to read.
Next, if your company is like the majority, most group meetings involve one or more remote participants. If the first project meeting requires a free-form brainstorm, you are stuck with the problem of how to include remote participants in the visual aspects of the in-room meeting, such as drawing on the whiteboard. If the content is required from multiple participants, you must either use a screen-sharing application and pass control from presenter to presenter or email all of the content to the meeting coordinator and have her share it on the screen. Both processes can be messy.
If action items are assigned to individuals during the meeting, they will usually want to share their work product before the next meeting, to give the other participants time to peruse and formulate feedback in advance. Again, it's usually an email-to-everyone situation. Then, in the meeting, it's back to "have the coordinator collect and share everything" or use screen sharing and pass presenters.
Lather, rinse, repeat.
It's time for a new solution.
Studies show that modern knowledge workers may spend up to 80% of their workdays collaborating. Yes, you read that right. That means you might spend upwards of six hours a day in collaborative activities (email and instant messaging are included in this total). Isn't it high time we found a better way to do things?
Here's how we do it at Prysm, using our own digital workplace platform.
1) Post a sample agenda in a cloud-based workspace, available from anywhere on any device. Ask all participants to add the items they'd like to discuss. This document will be ready and waiting for the meeting, with no additional steps. No emails are necessary. It can remain on the screen of the workspace (which everyone connects to) throughout the meeting.
2) Everyone logs into the project workspace for the meeting. There's a digital whiteboard, which everyone can use, without needing to "pass control." And everyone can see what everyone else is sketching on the whiteboard simultaneously, in real-time, from any device. We use Prysm's other tools — annotations, sticky notes, and so on — in the exact same way. It's the closest you can get to feeling as though you're all in the same room together. As the meeting progresses, it's easy to take notes and keep track of individual assigned action items.
3) Everyone uploads their content and work product to the workspace in advance of the meetings. Other team members can add notes, annotate, and contribute feedback ahead of time. When it's time for the meeting, everyone can view the other participants' feedback without all the emailing back and forth. What's more, Prysm lets you share almost any type of content onscreen at once, making it easy to communicate the big picture to facilitate discussion. You can even use the Prysm co-browser, which allows multiple remote participants to use the same web-browser session during the meeting. For example, if you work on a development team, your group can take turns sharing JIRA tickets onscreen without passing control.
Prysm was designed from the ground up for today's new collaborative work environment. It works so well for us that we often finish meetings early (can you say that about your company?). It's so efficient and so addictive that when people leave the company, we often hear former colleagues complaining about how difficult it is to go back to the old way of doing things.
Ready to try Prysm out for yourself from the comfort of your own desk? Use our self-service scheduler to book a demo and let us know what you think.